Review: “Salmon Fishing in the Yemen”

Written by: Gordon M. Wickstrom

How is it that I feel qualified, even called upon, to advise you to rush to see “Salmon Fishing in the Yemen”? As I sat beside my wife, Betty, in the theatre yesterday afternoon watching this remarkable movie, I couldn’t but feel our seventy years of throwing flies together at trout and salmon resting delightfully between us. I would have been willing to bet that Betty was the sole woman in the theatre who had taken an Atlantic salmon on a fly. How is that for qualification for advising you on this movie?

I beg to advise that while the film is most certainly about salmon and the ritual of their pursuit, it is as much about the vagaries and rewards of romantic love that is more than merely hormonal. It is about many things, in fact, that any close viewer must enjoy and cherish in her own secret way.

But the McGuffin, the trick of the movie, is to establish a run of Atlantic salmon in a desert river, the Yemen. If the English can transport their farmed salmon to Yemen and get them to respond to their primordial urge to run up river as they do in Britain, then perhaps our own urge to love, throughout the whole and ancient range of love, can be successful too. Every angler who has fished the salmon hopes in his sorrow that his casting, casting, and everlasting casting, may yet, with one more cast, get a strike from that love running ever-upstream of him. If a great fish hits, it could mean his fulfillment—out in this river that we are tempted to call life.

I call your attention to the myriad images of streams of pure and living water in both the Islamic and Hebraic literary traditions. The aristocratic sheik in this lovely film wants only to fulfill the destiny of his desert water by planting heroic salmon in it. I wonder if the alpine water piped down to the exquisite fountains of the Alhambra at Granada was home to salmon in those long-lost times.

Gordon Wickstrom is the author of 
Notes from an Old Fly Book (2001) and Late in an Angler’s Life (2004), editor of The Boulder Creek Angler newsletter, and writer and director of The Great Debate—A Fantasia for Anglers, an imagined debate between Frederic M. Halford and G. E. M. Skues. He is an Alumni Professor of English Literature and Belles Lettres, emeritus, of Franklin & Marshall College.

Amr Waked and Ewan McGregor in “Salmon Fishing in the Yemen.”

photo courtesy BBC Films

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